Sunday, 28 June 2015

Jurassic World

Title: Jurassic World
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Released: 2015
Starring: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Irrfan Khan, Vincent D’Onofrio, Ty Simpkins, Nick Robinson, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, BD Wong, Judy Greer, Lauren Lapkus

Plot: Twenty-two years after the events of the original film, Isla Nublar is now the fully functioning dinosaur theme park that John Hammond had envisioned. However after 10 years of operating, the park is starting to lose its appeal to visitors leading to the creation of a new dinosaur named Indominus Rex only for it to soon break out of its enclosure put the park staff in a race against time to stop it.


Review: Ok so perhaps this review is coming more than a bit late to the party, which at this point no doubt consists of a few scattered die hard fans still dissecting the film and an absence of onion dip and while this is no doubt one review amongst the hundreds which have been published since the film’s release to huge box office success and smashing the record held by “The Avengers: Age of Ultron”, something which was hardly surprisingly seeing how we are still talking about the original films even after all this time, with the buzz leading up to the film’s release easily being comparable to that of “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Still coming out of the film I felt I needed to get something written down about this film, if only to try and figure out what was missing / broken with this film which upon the credits rolling left me with mixed feelings about what I had just watched.

Taking a break from the usual dino island antics of the last two films, the film this time essentially gives us what many of us wanted to see after the first film and that’s the fully functioning theme park that John Hammond has envisioned in the first film and whose fully operational state had been teased during the lunch scene between the main characters as a slide show of coming attractions played on the screen around them. Considering some of the ideas which had come up during the long production history for this film, I’m glad that this is the one they went with, rather than any of the more random ones which would have seen raptors being used by the military's bio-weapon division let alone the more random dino-soldier hybrid idea which seemingly has refused to die after being rejected for part 3.

Here the film takes what essentially is the next logical step for the franchise, as the park now faces difficulty keeping the interest of its visitors who have long since outgrown the awe and wonder of seeing these extinct creatures being brought back, while the corporation running the park have turned it into a garish Disney World style attraction complete with a dino petting zoo and their Mosasurus being used to put on “Sea World” style performances as she drenches delighted audiences a tent pole scene in the trailer which surprisingly still played well. Needless to say this is the vision that CEO Simon Masrani (Khan) wants for the park as he continues the boundless enthusiasm that Hammond had for the park which he has now inherited, with the passing of Richard Attenborough being written into the film and who here we being honoured with a statue in the park, while Stan Winston also gets honoured for his ground breaking special effects work on the previous films by a restaurant chain called “Winston”.

These nods to the previous films Trevorrow scatters throughout the film making this as much a tribute to the previous films as it is a sequel and varies in how obvious they are from the skeleton of the spinosaurous and Tim’s night vision goggles, though to the more obscure such as a scrap of the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner and blood droplets mirroring Malcom’s Chaos theory pick up technique we see him using on Ellie in the first film. Of course great pleasure for the fans can be found in trying to spot all these references and brought back memories of gleefully pointing out new footage when they released the special editions of the “Star Wars” saga, only this time no one is having their childhood memories crushed.

Despite the solid frame work Trevorrow builds for the film, it unfortunately runs afoul of trying to combine to many plotlines as we have the brothers Zach (Robinson) and Gray (Simpkins) visiting the park were their aunt Claire (Howard) works as the operations manager. We also have the ongoing battle between Velociraptor rainer Owen (Pratt) battling with the head of InGen’s security opertions Vic (D’Onofrio) who is constantly pushing for the use of dinosaurs as weapons. From here we also get a variety of minor plotlines being spun off, including the divorce of Zach and Gray’s parents and the hidden motives of Dr. Wu which sees B.D. Wong returning to the role he played in the first film in a greatly increased role, though frustratingly one which leaves us questioning if he is as evil as his black turtleneck suggests while his characters actions seem to have been written mainly to give this film a lead into an inevitable sequel.

 The adult cast are largely great in their various roles, with Pratt once again wheeling out his usual charm and quick wit to give another enjoyable performance as he continues in many ways to provide directors with a younger Harrison Ford making it hardly surprising that Pratt is currently being linked with so many former roles played by Ford. Interestingly Ford was originally going to be in the film, only to drop out after his experiences making Indy 4 and leaving me in many ways with the belief that if he had sign on that we would be seeing playing Pratts role here as essentially a more laid back version of Robert Muldoon from the original film. Howard gets to play the opposite as the career driven business woman who over the course of the film warms to being an aunt while getting to hunt dino in high heels, which has become one of the more surprisingly discussed topics of this film. The brother however are just horrible as neither Robinson or Simpkins can seemingly decide what emotion they are going to play at any given moment as they go back and forth between excitedly happy and miserable, while the subplot involving their parents’ divorce felt unneeded more so when this pair can’t ever seem to decide what emotion they are supposed to be playing at any given moment.

Thankfully there is enough fun dino action to distract from the films flaws with the Indominus Rex seemingly representing the audiences expectations for bigger and better, as it has the ability to camouflage and hide from heat sensors thanks to some of the borrowed DNA in its makeup. The raptors once more get the majority of the focus thank that’s to Owen’s wrangling techniques which ultimately come off more hit and miss when put into play while someone clearly felt that the much maligned talking dino gimmick from part 3 needed to come back and once again feels as clumsy as it did previously.  Still there is at least plenty of varieties to hold your attention while Trevorrow manages to find serval unique demises for the parks visitors and staff, while ensuring that were possible the dinosaurs are kept to the forefront whenever possible, clearly knowing the reason audiences are showing up. Sadly though the effect doesn’t seem to have the same freshness they once did, with the lines between the CGI and practical effects surprisingly more obvious, this is especially surprisingly when you consider that the effects are being handled by “Legacy” the studio which was formed in the wake of Stan Winston’s death. At the same time I couldn’t tell if this line being so obvious was more down to the fact I was watching the film in HD rather than the technique being used and which tends to highlight such things further.

Ultimately the film hits the beats you want to hit, even though the experience frequently feels like something is lacking / missing and while it might be fun to see random cast members being turned into dino chow again you can’t help wonder if the film is riding off the legacy of the series and that if presented as a standalone film would we would be so forgiving? As such this is a flawed yet enjoyable return to the park and hopefully the wait for the next visit won’t be so long, especially when it leaves the series with plenty of room to grow.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Spring Breakers

Title: Spring Breakers
Director: Harmony Korine
Released: 2012
Starring: Vanessa Hudgens, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Rachel Korine

Plot: When Candy (Hudgens), Brit (Benson) and Cotty (Korine) decide to rob a restaurant in order to fund their spring break vacation to Florida it only marks the beginning of their downward spiral into a life of crime that the group soon find themselves in and one which devout Christian Faith (Gomez) soon also finds herself drawn into as she overlooks her friends actions and joins them on their trip to Florida. It is while in Florida though that the girls soon find themselves drawn into the crime ring of Russian rapper and wannabe gangster Alien (James Franco).

Review: What happens when a  former Disney Princess decide to break away from the house of mouse for good? Apparently they thrown themselves into a hedonistic mix of sex, drugs, crime spree’s and pink balaclava’s, or so it would seem with this latest offering from indie maverick Harmony Korine, which see's Vanessa Hudgens (High School Musical 1-3) and Selena Gomez (Wizards of Waverly Place) Trashing their prom dresses to join Ashley Benson and Rachel Korine as a group of party loving college girls and lifelong friends who fall for the allure of crime and easy money.

Released under an onslaught of publicity stills of the female cast members in their bikini’s, this film seemingly had a blink and you miss it cinema release, meaning that it has taken an art society (yes they seemingly want to see young girls in bikini’s too) screening for me to eventually see this film*, which far from generated the kind of buzz I think the studio was expecting judging by the amount of publicity it was given ahead of its release. At the same time it is hard to place exactly what this film should be classed as seeing how at its heart it’s a crime thriller, yet director Korine still refuses to give up on his indie and experimental film making roots, as with the amount of bare flesh and drunken debauchery on show it would seem as if he has chosen to cross the film with a “Girls Gone Wild” video, while frequently shooting from the hip or like a stretched out and overly glossy music video. Korine though at this point in his career clearly knows films appeal to the few rather than the mainstream, even though this is miles closer to the mainstream than any of his previous films, it will no doubt still have all the feelings of a celluloid migraine for most movie goers.

Essentially re-rooting his breakout script for “Kids” (memorably directed by cinema’s l’enfant terrible Larry Clarke) from the poverty and grime of New York to the luminous bright lights and sun soaked beaches of Florida.  Like “Kids” the script feels largely improv, especially with Franco’s hip hop caricature Alien, who seems to embody the gangsta rap life style complete with glittering grill and cornrows in what is certainly an interesting look for Franco who is white as the driven snow and whom here continues his on going mission to rack to appear in as many surprising rolls as possible. Still here he certainly seems to be having a blast largely improving such a random character, who when not making his continual brags about money, guns or even having Scarface on repeat can be found frequently snarling out the words “Spring Breakkkk” and “Bitches” every other word. The girls meanwhile suffer from paper thin character development  to say the least, with Faith perhaps being the most developed of the foursome as we see her frequently being conflicted by the lure of the party life style and the desire to be a good Christian, with the film opening to her taking part in a youth Christian group (led by former TNA wrestler and founder Jeff Jarrett in a fun cameo appearance), while here she seems to be already questioning the mean of her faith, something which only further challenged when she arrives in Florida and finds herself amerced in the party lifestyle, especially as her friends are seemingly on a quest to keep the party going at no matter what cost.

While it might seem like stunt casting by using both Gomez and Hudgen’s here they prove themselves not afraid to act out of their comfort zone, especially in the case of Hudgen’s who continues on to break away from her clean cut image, having previously shown her feisty side in Zack Snyder’s cult favourite “Sucker Punch”, only kicks it up another notch here as one of the main instigators in the girls downward spiral. Sadly while all the girls might give adequate performances, there is still a sense of shallowness to the film, similar to how it ultimately portrays the so called Gangsta lifestyle and is only added to by the lack of development for any of their characters and essentially leaving them more often than not to play of their womanly charms than anything close to flexing their acting muscles.

The soundtrack is largely a mixture of electro / dance music by Skrillex with the occasional dash of gangster rap and while I can’t say that it really did much for me, it still worked well with the film, especially when Korine seems to be actively editing the film around the soundtrack, often giving it a glossy music video feel as a result, alas a music video featuring copious bouncing naked breasts and obscene alcohol consumption being shot in slow motion, but then isn’t this essentially what spring break is about…or so I gather coming from a English (and hence spring breakless) perspective.

While it might be easy to write this film off as being a lot of style and very little substance, Korine has still somehow managed to craft a film which is none the less engrossing, as he pulls a trick non to dismilar to the one Sofia Coppola did with “Lost in Translation”, although his execution is perhaps done with a more sleazier edge to it but this film like Coppola’s is one were essentially nothing really happens as Korine seems frequently to be just stringing together random scenes of improv and stylised violence alongside those of partying youths. However it is amongst these random scenes of excess and partying that we also get a number of memorable scenes including Alien playing a stripped down version of Brittany Spears’s “Everytime” on his poolside piano while Candy, Brit and Cotty dance around while welding shotguns and dressed in their trademark pink balaclavas which at the same time make this far from an unsatisfying viewing experience if ultimately a hollow one.

*This is an archive piece originally published at "Diamonds In Da Sky", apologies for confusion this might have caused,

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Evil Dead (2013)

Title: Evil Dead
Director: Fede Alvarez
Released: 2013
Starring: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Jessica Lucas, Lou Taylor Pucci, Elizabeth Blackmore

Plot: David (Fernandez) and his friends arrange to meet at his family’s cabin with the plan to help David’s sister Mia (Levy) kick her heroin addiction by going cold turkey. However when one of the group discovers the Naturom Demonto (aka the book of the dead) they unwittingly unleash the evil in the woods.


Review: When this film was first announced it was unsurprisingly greeted with groans of disapproval from the fans of Sam Raimi’s original trilogy who for years had held out for a forth film, something that was seemingly being squashed with this film. Equally with the current track record for remakes for horror remakes not being exactly spectacular you can understand why most people were sceptical and really the main reason it’s taken me until now to actually watch it. However what we have here is not so much a remake or rebook, but rather an indirect sequel of sorts which carries over the ideas of the trilogy while at the same time introducing a new group of characters instead of trying to work in any members of the established cast, an idea which would also convince Bruce Campbell to sign on as a producer having long resisted the idea of remaking the films which helped him rise to cult stardom as he didn’t want to see anyone else play Ash.

Clearly a fan of the original films director Alvarez here making his feature debut while also co-writing the script with Rodo Sayagues (with further script doctoring from Diablo Cody) clearly isn’t trying and reinvent the wheel here, as builds he film following the same rules of the previous films, while at the same time peppering the film with numerous nods to those film, as he even manages to find a way to work in Raimi’s trademark Oldsmobile.

Despite the cast being made up of Unknowns with perhaps the exception of Jane Levy (sadly not a red head here) they are still make for an interesting group with each character different enough or having their own role, to stop them from being yet another disposable group of teens. Sadly this doesn’t seem to stretch to general intelligence as seen by the fact that we have one of them messing around with the book, which this time comes wrapped in plastic and barbwire, let alone numerous notes scrawled in its pages not to read it, which for some unknown reason still doesn’t deter Eric (Pucci) who you’d wrongly believe to be the smart one from reading it and of course unleashing all kinds of gooey terror on the group.

One of the main concerns going into this film was that the gore which made the first two films stand out, let alone land the first film on the Video nasties list would be absent especially in these times were studios are actively seeking lower ratings in order to guarantee larger box office returns. Thankfully this wasn’t the case here as it more than delivers in the gore stakes, perhaps even surpassing that of the original as over 70,000 gallons of fake blood were used with 50,000 alone being used for the finale were it literally rains blood. To further put this into context the original only used 200-300 gallons and here it really is put to effective use, more so with Alvarez insisting on using old school effects and only using CGI to touch up which is always welcome.

While the film follows several similar beats to the original film such as locking a possessed member in the cellar, here Alvarez aims to bring his own shocks even reworking the notorious tree rape scene from the original film which honestly comes off a lot more shocking than the original. Elsewhere we get plenty of bodily mutation with such highlights as arms being torn off and one character attempting to cut their own jaw off. A lot of the gore is also surprisingly refreshing in its originality even if perhaps some of it does come off a little cornball such as one character taking a bread knife to her possessed arm.

While the setting for the film is certainly haunting enough as it combines scenes of heavy rain and creepy mist which made me wonder if they were taking art direction from “Silent Hill” as especially seen with the opening featuring a girl staggering through the woods only to be ambushed and bagged by a bunch of deformed yokels, only for Alvarez to pull the rug from under us as he reveals that these are actually good guys and trying to help her father soon leading to one of the early shocks. While this general tone is maintained throughout it does however suffer thanks to a plodding plot which certainly causes the film to sag in the middle as Alvarez doesn’t seemingly know the direction in which to take the film. This becomes especially present when things start getting distracted with trying to reverse the possession instead of sticking with the original concept of making it to dawn. We also get some confused plot about a demon being summoned by the souls of the group being possessed something which lost me largely down to it seemingly being written into the plot in the final quarter.

While certainly better than the most of the horror remakes currently being churned out and an enjoyable enough experience, it suffers largely due to the pedigree of the films it’s trying to remake so the fact that Alvarez clearly was trying to do something different than just remaking the original certainly was a welcome surprise, it’s just a shame that its questionable plotting stops it from being better than it is.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Jodorowsky’s Dune

Title: Jodorowsky’s Dune
Director: Frank Pavich
Released: 2013
Starring: Alejandro Jodorowsky, Michel Seydoux, H.R. Giger, Chris Foss, Nicolas Winding Refn, Amanda Lear, Richard Stanley
Plot: Documentary charting the development and eventual collapse of surrealistic director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s attempt to adapt Frank Herbert’s legendry sci-fi novel “Dune”.

Review: In 1975 riding high after the success of midnight movie favourite “El Topo” and the equally surreal “The Holy Mountain” director Alejandro Jodorowsky was given the opportunity to direct any film he wanted and oppotunity Jodorowsky choose to use to adapt “Dune” despite never having read the novel and instead going off a friends recommendation that it was a good book.  While the film would never see a day of filming, its influence would be felt in the films which followed in its wake as this documentary sets out to highlight with director Frank Pavich interviewing nearly all of the major players who worked on the film. A crew who Jodorowsky calls his “Warriors” as he not only tells the story of the films development and collapse but also gives us an insight into the vision that Jodorowsky had for the film.

For those familiar with Jodorowsky already,  they will be unsurprised that despite being older he is still as crazy as ever as he practically fizzles with enthusiasm for the project even though at the time of its collapse it left him questioning if he would direct again. Here though he is front and centre as he guides the viewer through his vision which now forms a telephone book of design sketches and storyboards. At the same time it’s within the contents of this book that both the genius and madness of his vision is revealed. More so for the latter as Jodorowsky envisioned a 15 hour film despite the studio only allowing him to making a two hour film.
Such creative extravagance is very much the running theme here as for his vision Jodorowsky seemingly was working with an unlimited budget when you consider such things as his decision that the two houses at the centre of the story would each have their own distinct visual style which saw him bringing in both Dan O’Bannon and H.R. Giger to help craft the visual style for the two houses, while also believing that each house should have their own band providing their musical cue’s and as recruited both Pink Floyd and Magma to provide this, though sadly no example exist in one of the occasional gaps in the production not covered here.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the film is seeing who Jodorowsky has in mind for the cast which saw him casting Salvador Dali as the Emperor of the galaxy, David Carradine as Duke Leto and most excitingly Orson Welles as Baron Harkonnen.  In a bizarre twist he also felt that a musician would be best suited for the role of Feyd-Rautha, as he saw Mick Jagger in the role which would ultimately be taken on by Sting in the David Lynch directed version which would ultimately be the version we were given.

Pavich unquestionably assembles a great set of interviews here as he doesn’t contend himself with just interviewing Jodorowsky’s “Warriors” but also brings in outside opinions from several critics who highlight the influence the film would have on numerous classic sci-fi movies which followed in its wake as Star Wars, Alien and err Masters of the Universe given amongst the examples, as O’Bannon and Giger carried across unused ideas to other projects.  We also have equally visionary directors Richard Stanley aswell as Jodorowsky’s prodigy of sorts Nicolas Winding Refn who has openly admitted to drawing inspiration from Jodorowsky’s work for his last two films. Stanley meanwhile is no stranger to troubled productions as seen with his attempts to adapt “The Island of Doctor Moreau” as recently documented in “Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau” and like Refn provides some great opinions on the project as one of the few outsiders who have been given access to the production book, something which I’d love to see released perhaps as an ebook.

For the fans of Herbert’s novel they might find Jodorowsky’s loose adaption slightly offensive especially when it seems frequently that his vision is “Dune” in name only, a situation he puts it so memorably as “I was raping Frank Herbert…with love” combined with the fact that like so many of the production team he never read the source novel. This however doesn’t stop the production from coming across any less interesting it just leaves the established fans perhaps a little bewildered as to what has happened to the story they love so much, less what exactly gives Jodorowsky the right to make such changes.

A fascinating documentary and interestingly one which treats its development as if the film had been made and as such showcases the material with only a dash of bitterness and resentment for the film not being made and more so for producer Dino De Laurentiis buying up the rights for David Lynch to direct. As such the documentary embraces the journey the production took aswell as teasing as to what could, while at the same time certainly being boosted by the frequently random and tireless enthusiasm of Jodorowsky, so that even if you’re not a fan of his films there is still much to enjoy here.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Deep Red

Title: Deep Red
Director: Dario Argento
Released: 1975
Starring: Macha Meril, David Hemmings, Daria Nicolodi, Gabriele Lavia, Giuiana Calandra, Glauco Mauri, Clara Calamai, Piero Mazzinghi

Plot: A famous psychic (Meril) reads the mind of a murderer during a public demonstration of her abilities and soon finds herself being targeted by the murderer. Now her neighbour Marcus sets out to find her killer while teaming up with a brash reporter Gianna (Nicolodi).


Review: Sometimes all it takes is for one film to make you question your established opinion on a genre / director, something which certainly was the case here being neither a fan of Argento’s films I had seen much like the few giallo films I had also seen. Needless to I was pretty sure of my opinions only for this film to then go and screw it all up, let alone leaving me wondering if I’d been too quick in forming an opinion of Argento’s ability as a director.

So why watch this one? Well other than its legacy as one of Argento’s best films even if it is largely over shadowed by the likes of “Susperia” and “Tenebrae”, the thing which made me want to check this one out was this bizarre and slightly creepy puppet which currently resides in Argento’s horror memorabilia store “Profondo Rosso”.

True its one of the more random reasons for wanting to watch something, but sometimes it leads to some of the best discovers as was more than the case here as this film really is a blast from start to finish.

Opening on a Christmas scene sound tracked by a creepy children lullaby, as we see two figures in shadows fighting until one of them is suddenly stabbed. From here the film cuts to the psychic demonstration which will form the catalyst for the film, with Argento cleverly shooting footage from the killers POV as he refuses to give us any clues about who the killer might be, outside of a shot of the killers eyes framed in a steamed up mirror and their black leather gloves but what would a giallo film be without these key piece of wardrobe while Argento performed all the shots of the killers hands himself.

The creepy music we hear at the start of the film also soon becomes a calling card for the killer, which makes the fact that we follow Marcus throughout the mystery all the more plausible seeing how he’s a composer. More so when he is an unlikely hero with his mild mannered nature, which in turn makes for several comedic moments when he starts investigating with Gianna who is pretty much his opposite in every way, while also driving possibly the most taped together car since Enzo’s car in “The Big Blue”. The jury is still out though on which is worst. Gianna’s actual assistance on the case is limited to say the least, especially as the two set off on their own investigations after their initial meeting before finally coming together once more for the finale. This would be more irritating if they weren’t so entertaining, though it may explain why their scenes were trimmed as part of the 22 minutes of footage which the original US release cut out.

Throughout the film Argento crafts some memorable deaths including one victim being drowned in boiling hot water. Argento and co-writer Bernardino Zapponi intentionally thinking of painful injuries that the audience could relate to and it proves to be an effective decision as all of the murders are memorable while saving his most spectacular deaths for the end ensuring that the film concludes in a memorable fashion. At the same time they are only emphasised by the great score provided by progressive rock band “Goblin” in the first of the collaborations with Argento, even though they were only picked when Argento couldn’t secure Pink Floyd who had been his first choice after disagreements with jazz pianist Giorgio Gaslini caused him to walk out on the production, with Argento feeling that the music that Gaslini had produced for the soundtrack sounded too chaotic, even though Argento would ultimately still use three of his compositions in the film.

An effective film and perhaps the one I wish I’d used for my introduction to giallo, let alone the films of Argentino rather than the introduction I got from “The StendhalSyndrome” and Bava’s “Bay of Blood” which served to put me off the genre rather than sparking an interest in seeing more, which was the feeling that I was left with at the end of this film, even if it might not spill as much blood as other films in the genre. Still if you want a starting point this is as great one to start with.
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